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Drawing theatre – a human orchestration

13 Oct 2013

It has become a highlight of the London life drawing calendar. An art extravaganza, no less. It is the annual ‘Big Draw‘ grand collaboration between London Drawing and Spirited Bodies, bringing together a multitude of artists and life models under one roof to do what they do best.

This year’s drawing theatre – subtitled ‘a human orchestration’ – took place yesterday in St John’s church, opposite Waterloo Station. When I arrived at 11am, clouds were breaking up and the sun was starting to shine through after the dreary overnight rain. It augured well for a good day.


Spirited Bodies’ artistic director Esther had assembled 19 life models to deliver the performances. We ranged from the hugely experienced to a very brave first-timer. It was lovely to be working again with Camila, Clifford, LaDawn, Letizia, Liliana, Peter and Ursula, and making many new friends. Special credit goes to another frequent model collaborator, Santosh, who was on logistics duty for the day.

The event was to be comprised of three separate performances starting at 1pm so we had a couple of hours to rehearse. David and Anne of London Drawing, together with Esther, took us through practice runs for the centrepiece of the day. Afterwards we retired to the organ balcony for food and to change before the artists began arriving.


Performance 1

Rather than change into robes we simply set aside surplus layers of clothes, removed our underwear, and then dressed again. As artists began to fill the wide space of the church, collecting complimentary art materials before settling on chairs or the floor, so we did the same, discretely and anonymously scattering ourselves among them.

Come one o’clock, David and Anne introduced Canon Giles Goddard, who spoke well about the occasion and why the nudity of the models sat comfortably with the church. Next came some words about the day’s programme, and Esther spoke about Spirited Bodies and the models. The principals then departed, leaving the artists to assume that models would file out from backstage and assemble on the cushioned platform near the altar space.

But no. Instead, after a couple of minutes Esther moved amongst us and made subtle signs to individual models. When we each received our signal, we quickly undressed and stood in pose. Nude bodies rose up across the congregation over a period of ten minutes. Artists were never sure who would be next. Afterwards at least one said she dreaded getting the sign in case it meant she had to stand naked too.

This performance lasted about an hour. Models were at liberty to change pose but I opted to maintain a single long pose for the duration. Towards the end, Esther came among us again, signalling us individually to sit and dress. When all was done, the artists were invited to share their work for others to admire. As ever in a multi-model event, it was a relief to see at least some of the artists had drawn me.












Performance 2

Returning to the balcony, we once more plundered the buffet, then changed into our gowns. Esther lead us back down the stairs, single file in order of our height with the tallest (me) first. We waited silently out of sight while David and Anne introduced our second performance, then put our coverings to one side and slowly processed naked down the central nave carpet.

Standing in line the length of the carpet, we turned to face the balcony. Christine – a life model and superb vocalist – had remained on high and now set about leading us through a series of vocalisation effects. She filled the church with sound, then took a pace back as cue for us to provide an echoing response.




After ten minutes of call and response, Christine descended to join us. We turned to face forward, and Esther started us in a spiralling walk around a wooden cube. Ursula stepped onto the cube and our spiral tightened around her. Those on the outside then lowered themselves to the floor. We were ready to begin the next piece.

Ursula, who is a wonderful singer, began projecting a range of melodious sounds and phrases. The rest of us, rather than responding in kind, improvised with every manner of vocal effect, and threw in several slaps and clicks for good measure.

As we hummed, droned, whooped, boomed, clicked, whistled, tisked and shushed, Ursula belted out snatches of song. In silent moments we changed pose a couple of times. Again, I stood throughout. With Ursula elevated to equal height with me, we took a rare opportunity to pose with arms around each other’s shoulders.

Our work with sound had been carefully planned, but a certain amount of spontaneity took over in the execution. By general consent it worked extremely well. Within the resonant walls of the high-ceilinged church, it added an extra dimension of unseen form. To our joy the artists surprised us with warm unbidden applause as we filed out.

Artworks were placed around the carpet during the second break and we returned in gowns to admire how our efforts had been interpreted.








Performance 3

Our final performance was a more conventional group tableau. Once more we disrobed out of sight and then filed out to our cushioned tables and stools. I sat slightly to the left of centre, as seen from the floor, and again went for a single long pose – right arm resting on right thigh, left arm extended to the table, left leg hooked behind right.

The piece lasted between forty-five minutes and one hour. At the end we stood, held hands, and took a bow to prolonged applause. It had been a long but exceptionally enjoyable, successful day. Esther, David and Anne were delighted. Most importantly the artists seemed happy with the event and the unique opportunities it presented.








I’ve tended to take positives from all the life drawing events in which I’ve been involved. This one, however, definitely had something special that was way beyond the norm. It reminded me of coming away from the ‘Inversed voyeurism‘ project in the summer feeling we had got an exceptionally special group together.

This drawing theatre had a fine group, a brilliant concept and fantastic orchestration. The venue, the atmosphere, the schedule, the balance of planning and spontaneity, the good vibe from the artists, even the sunshine blazing through the windows, it all came together perfectly. Happy times. Full credit to the organisers – I hope we did them proud.

From → Art

  1. Wonderful observation and the feel of the day so beautifully and in-depthly captured.

  2. Yes you certainly did us proud!

  3. grasseynoel permalink

    Reblogged this on View from a grassey knoll.

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